, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 855-873

Undergraduates’ text messaging language and literacy skills

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Abstract

Research investigating whether people’s literacy skill is being affected by the use of text messaging language has produced largely positive results for children, but mixed results for adults. We asked 150 undergraduate university students in Western Canada and 86 in South Eastern Australia to supply naturalistic text messages and to complete nonword reading and spelling tasks. The Australian students also completed two further real word and nonword reading tasks, a spoonerisms task, a questionnaire regarding their reading history, and a nonverbal reasoning task. We found few significant correlations between literacy scores and both use of textisms (such as u for you) and measures of texting experience. Specifically, textism use was negatively correlated with spelling for the Canadian students, and with scores for timed nonword reading, spoonerisms, and Adult Reading History for the Australian students. Length of phone ownership was negatively correlated with spelling (Canadians), but positively correlated with Word Attack scores (Australians), whereas daily message sending volumes were negatively correlated with Word Attack scores (Australians). Australian students who thought that using textisms was more appropriate had poorer nonword reading and reported having had more difficulty learning to read, than those who found it less appropriate. We conclude that there is inconsistent evidence for negative relationships between adults’ use of textisms and their literacy skills, and that these associations may be influenced by attitudes towards the appropriateness of textism use. A model of the potential relationship between adults’ textism use and literacy skills is presented.